In Warner Bros’ “Green Lantern,” director Martin Campbell takes viewers on a trip that begins on Earth and ends up in the center of the universe. The story centers on Hal Jordan, a brash test pilot chosen by a semi-sentient alien weapon to join an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. The concept is one which could very easily lend itself to camp, but the director decided on another approach. “You treat it as seriously as you would ‘Hamlet,'” he told CBR News and assembled journalists during our visit to the set last August. “The big mistake with superheroes is not to take it seriously.”
Campbell is no stranger to masked heroes and high-profile action films having directed Antonio Banderas’ “Zorro” films and reinvigorating the James Bond franchise twice with “GoldenEye” in 1995 and “Casino Royale” in 2006. Even with that body of work, however, the complexity of realizing a space epic gave him pause, from the grand cosmic battles to the Green Lantern uniform. “[There was] a lot of technical stuff that had to be dealt with from the suit,” he said. Instead of a traditional tailored costume, Campbell chose to realize the uniform as computer generated effect. Beyond that design hurdle, everything on the alien world of Oa, the headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps, had to be imagined from scratch. Alien characters pulled from the pages of “Green Lantern” like Boodikka, Salaak and Bzzd also had to be re-designed to fit the look of the film. “Creating that world was very challenging,” he continued.
Despite the sometimes near-overwhelming challenge of designing the world of “Green Lantern,” the scope of the project appealed to him as a filmmaker. “You go to Oa, which is very unusual for superheroes,” he said, noting the way in which Superman largely operates in one city and fights “whoever has the Kryptonite.” The constraints on the Man of Steel as a film entity inhibits the types of stories that can be told with him. Hal Jordan, by contrast, has the whole of space sector 2814 to patrol. “That gives you tremendous scale,” Campbell said. In the case of this film, the planet Oa and Hal’s indoctrination into the Corps highlight the enormity of the film’s universe.
That scope is grounded, however, by Hal and his relationships with a number of characters, including Carol Ferris, his life-long friend and Sinestro, the de facto captain of the Corps. “[Focusing on those relationships is] just keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground,” the director explained. “You see it from his point of view. Where he goes, you go,” Campbell said of Jordan’s discovery of Oa, training with the Corps and the other fantastic elements of the film. “His journey of discovery is our journey of discovery.”
To ensure Hal is the sort of guy an audience would want to follow around, Campbell chose Ryan Reynolds to wield the ring. Of the eight actors the director tested for the part, Reynolds stood out with his charm, sense of humor and understanding of the material. “He’s a very fine actor,” Campbell said. The performer’s talents also lend credence to the director’s vision of how a Green Lantern uses the ring’s power: energy constructs.
The ring, combined with a Green Lantern’s force of will, can fashion from its pool of energy any weapon, device, or blunt force object the wearer might need. “His power is psychological,” Campbell explained. “He has a great arsenal in the ability to create these constructs.” Indeed, the ring is an awesome tool, but it comes with a great responsibility for the bearer. In Hal’s case, he appears to be the last person who should ever wield it. According to Campbell, “[At the film’s start,] he seems to be totally irresponsible, shoot from the hip and very cocky. He seems to have every attribute that doesn’t make a Green Lantern.” While the trainers on Oa have a problem with a human in the Corps, “the ring recognizes what’s inside of him.”
Adding to the film’s pedigree is editor Stuart Baird, who brought some much-appreciated experience in translating super heroics to the big screen, having served the same role on Richard Donner’s 1979 “Superman.” “I still rate [‘Superman’] as one of the best superhero movies, if not the best ever made,” Campbell said, praising the emotional core of “Superman” and the strong romance between the leads. “Stuart cut his teeth on that film,” he said. “Hopefully he’s inherited something from it that will [strengthen ‘Green Lantern’].”
Campbell was more than happy to discuss the movie’s romantic element as brought by Hal Jordan’s relationship with Carol Ferris as played by actress Blake Lively, Hal’s love interest and sometimes boss. Like Lois and Superman, the relationship between Hal and Carol is a key facet of the film. Having a choice between five different actresses, the director told us Lively was an early favorite of the studio. “They’d worked with her; I think she’d just done [Ben Affleck’s] ‘The Town’ with them.” A final screen test opposite Reynolds sealed the deal. “It became very obvious, very quickly, the chemistry between them.”
“Green Lantern” production mounted around the time “Avatar” reinvigorated the box office with 3D dollar signs and the movie was quickly scheduled for stereoscopic presentation, though Campbell was quick to point out that he was not shooting the film in 3D. Instead, the studio will be using a post-conversion process to create the illusion of depth. “By the time this film comes out, we’re hoping that technology will have improved,” he said, calling early test footage “encouraging.”
“I’d rather keep my sights on the origin story,” Campbell responded when asked about directing a potential sequel, pointing out that the film features very little obvious foreshadowing for the fate of characters like Sinestro and Carol. “My job is simply to try and make this one work as best as possible.”
“Green Lantern” lands in theaters on June 17